Russia 'sceptical' over UN report on Syrian crimes against humanity

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a press conference after his meeting with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Moscow, Russia, on June 21, 2018.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a press conference after his meeting with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Moscow, Russia, on June 21, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's Foreign Minister on Thursday (June 21) said he was "sceptical" about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta.

The report published on Wednesday said forces loyal to the government had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.

"We are in principle very sceptical towards the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

When questioned by journalists, Mr Lavrov confirmed he had not seen the report.

He said it was "based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses", rather than being put together on the ground.

The five-year siege on the outskirts of the capital ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.

As pro-government forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave, they used tactics that were "largely unlawful in nature", the UN-commissioned report said.

The tactics, it said, "aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve."

Russia has been involved in Syria's civil war since September 2015. Its military support of the regime changed the course of the war, allowing government troops to retake more than half the country from rebels and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria's war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.